A Westhampton woman said she plans to file a complaint with the Riverhead Town Police Department after an officer on Monday ordered her to stop breastfeeding her child in a car on a private street—an activity state law specifically allows.
According to Andrea Zeledon, the incident in question happened on Monday night in Wading River, and she is hoping that, in the future, police officers in general will be better trained to deal with nursing mothers. She said she intends to file an official complaint with Riverhead Town Police to try to help other women who might feel threatened while feeding their babies.
“My reason for wanting this to get out there is, one, I think that this officer, and every officer, should be trained not to say anything,” Ms. Zeledon said. “And, two, I don’t understand how someone can actually do something like this to someone who is doing something so natural as breastfeeding a baby.”
Ms. Zeledon said she had called the Riverhead Town Police to a Wading River residence to file a report against an acquaintance who she said was violating a court order. The officer arrived on scene, and Ms. Zeledon remained outside in her car with her children, 12-year-old Richard and her 9-week-old daughter, Sophia, while a report was written.
While she was waiting in the car, her daughter became fussy, so Ms. Zeledon said she remained in the car and started to breastfeed. When the officer—who she said had been very polite and helpful until then—returned to the car and observed her breastfeeding the baby, she said he told her to “put that away.”
Taken aback, she said she reminded the officer that it is illegal, under New York State law, to ask a woman who is breastfeeding a child to stop. Out of courtesy, she said she would cover up—to which the officer allegedly responded, “I’m not going to ask you again.” She complied.
“I was in my car,” Ms. Zeledon said. “If I was in a park or at a baseball game, I could understand a little better—I’ve been to sporting events, and I won’t breastfeed there—but for a grown man of a legal caliber of authority to come and intimidate you in that way, and to tell you, ‘I don’t want to have to tell you again,’ that is inappropriate,” she said. “I honestly thought at the time that if I didn’t cover up, he was going to arrest me.”
According to New York State Penal Code 79-e, women have the right to nurse babies in public and should not be told to cover up or leave: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast feed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breast feeding.”
Riverhead Police Chief David J. Hegermiller said this week he was not aware of the situation but he has reached out to Ms. Zeledon.
Ms. Zeledon said she is consulting with a lawyer about the incident and plans to file a complaint this week. She noted that she called the chief’s office on Tuesday, and although someone from the office called her back, she was not home at the time and had not yet spoken to the chief.
“I wanted to bring attention to this, and I want the police department to take some kind of measure to educate these men and women about sensitivities surrounding breastfeeding,” Ms. Zeledon said. “I want to talk to the chief, because although his officer was otherwise completely courteous and helpful, someone in a position of authority like that should have a little bit of education on the matter.”